Previously in Railroad Train to Heaven, the sprawling and oddly previously-unpublished memoirs of “the Rhyming Brakeman” Arnold Schnabel:
It is 1963, a summer night in Cape May -- a town which was at that time genuinely quaint and even slightly shabby -- to which Arnold has gone with his mother to recuperate from a complete mental breakdown.
One evening after a long solitary swim Arnold meets four beatniks on the beach: Rocket Man, Gypsy Dave, Fairchild and Elektra. They invite him to smoke marijuana with them, and Arnold -- having always at least tried to be a good boy and a stout Catholic, but realizing that being a good boy has brought him nowhere but to the brink of permanent imbecility -- accepts.
The raffish four invite him to their apartment above their jewelry shop on Jackson Street, where they all eat a spaghetti dinner and listen to John Coltrane and Miles Davis and Bob Dylan.
Elektra invites Arnold to step out onto the back porch with her for a smoke. They kiss. She invites him to come back inside with her, to bed. Jesus appears to Arnold and tells him to go ahead.
We went back in, through the kitchen, into the living room where the other three were still sitting around their wooden spool-table, listening to music, an old Negro man singing with a guitar.
I suddenly became aware again of my erection, but they barely looked up at me.
“We’re going in the bedroom for a while,” said Elektra.
“Cool, babe,” said Rocket Man.
“Dig it,” said Gypsy Dave.
Fairchild finished drawing on her reefer, and, speaking without exhaling, she said, in a hoarse constrained voice, “Beautiful.”
We went into another room. She didn’t turn on the light but there were large windows letting in some light from a streetlamp outside. I had a never seen such a messy room. Clothes all over the floor. Clothes and books. Books and clothes. And an unmade double bed.
“It’s messy,” said Elektra. “Do you mind?”
“No,” I said.
“I could never see the point of making a bed.” She brought herself up close to me again. “Do you make your bed?”
“No,” I said. “But my mother does.”
She drew her dress up over her head and let it drop to the floor. She had been wearing no underwear.
“What do you think?” she said.
“I think I should close the door,” I said.
I turned and closed the door. She went over and got into the bed.
“Come here,” she said.
I went over, and stood there. I wasn’t quite sure of the protocol at this point.
“Oh, wait,” she said, she leaned over and opened a drawer on the night table that was there. In the dim light I could see that, along with an overflowing ashtray and some cosmetics jars and bottles, there was a paperback book open on the table, Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse. Never heard of him. She scrabbled around in the drawer, her breasts moving with a life of their own, and finally she came up with a Trojan in its wrapper.
“You don’t mind, do you?” she said.
“Oh, no, not at all,” I said, it seeming somehow less a sin this way, if it was a sin, which it was seeming less like anyway each passing second.
“Good. Now take off those swimming trunks and that t-shirt and get in bed.”
I did as I was told.
Perhaps life didn’t have to be so difficult after all. Perhaps I had been denying myself life itself all my life in the service of some random superstition. After all, what if I had been born a Hindoo, or a Pygmy, or a Hottentot --
“Now get on top of me,” she said.
I obeyed her instructions.
I’ve always been good at following instructions, at taking orders.
And if I wasn’t sure what she meant I wasn’t too proud to politely ask her to repeat herself, or to elaborate.
At one point she ceased her instructions, and after a minute or so I asked her:
“Is this okay?”
“Yes,” she said. “Just keep doing what you’re doing.”
Even I had to admit that all of this was perfectly natural after all.
Which makes sense I suppose, or else none of us would be here.
I was pleasantly surprised to find the activity so much more enjoyable than masturbation. But then how enjoyable had masturbation ever been really, with my mother usually in the next room; or even worse, in the army, with other guys grunting and groaning in the darkness all around me. No, this was definitely better, and the more I did it the more absurd it seemed that this act should be considered a mortal sin.
But suddenly I stopped.
Something about that mortal sin thought. The thing was:
How could I know for sure?
But while I had stopped she did not. She grabbed tightly to my shoulders, her nails digging into me as she stared with those dark eyes straight up into mine.
And then, as if I had swum to the top of some great cresting wave on my way back in to my own private beach, I came rushing and crashing in on the wave and into her.
Then we lay there together, me on top of her, the both of us sweaty and panting.
Once again I was not familiar with the protocol at this stage, but she helped me, shoving me gently off of her. After a minute she even removed the Trojan for me. I turned slightly away in my modesty, but I think she tied it up and tossed it under the bed.
“That was good, Arnold,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said.
I gazed out the window. The leaves of a tree were thrashing in slow motion in the breeze, silhouetted by the street lamp’s light.
Jesus floated into view again, right outside the window, smoking a cigarette. He was smiling.
“Well,” he said, “now was that so horrible, Arnold?”
(Click here to go to the next episode. Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page for links to other installments of Railroad Train to Heaven, as well as to many of the fine poems of Arnold Schnabel -- now available on the CD The Collected Poems of Arnold Schnabel, Vol. 1: Moonlight Over Olney; performed by Brad Pitt, Charlie Sheen, Mickey Rourke, Johnny Depp, Jason Alexander, Steve Martin, David Duchovny, Jay-Z, and Sir Ian McKellan; produced by The RZA and Burt Bacharach.)